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Education Planning: Selecting the Right College

The time has finally come. You’ve been saving money consistently over the years, as your child has graduated from elementary school to middle school to high school. Now your child is actually ready to start thinking about exactly where he or she wants to go to college. Selecting a college is no easy task. There are approximately 3,000 accredited colleges in the United States. Of these, approximately 1,800 are four-year colleges. With all these possibilities, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the search process.

However, by considering a few key factors, your child should be able to eliminate all but 30 or 40 colleges. The list can then be pared down further with additional book research, attendance at college fairs, correspondence with particular colleges, and perhaps campus visits. To help with the search, an increasing number of families are turning to professional educational consultants. These families expect the up front costs of such assistance to pay off in the form of a more exhaustive, yet less frenzied college selection process.

Regrettably, students often investigate only those schools that their friends are interested in or those that are extremely popular. As a result, they may miss out on many colleges that would be an excellent fit for them. It is important for parents to participate in the search process and to encourage their children to personalize the search as much as possible. The research process usually begins in your child’s sophomore or junior year of high school and continues until the fall of senior year. The application process then gets underway in October or November of senior year.

As you and your child develop a list of colleges, keep in mind that part of the college acceptance game is luck, having the right combination of qualities that a college happens to be looking for at that particular moment. If you and your child have your hearts set on a college and it doesn’t work out, it may be that the college was looking to strengthen its athletic teams that year, not its academic clubs. Families simply cannot predict these admission preferences that change from year to year, and to do so is to try and hit a moving target. Instead, focus on your child’s strengths, interests, and his or her college expectations.

Factors to consider

The following questions can be answered by most college guidebooks on the market, which are available at bookstores or in the reference section of your local library. Alternatively, you may want to begin the selection process using one of the many computer programs available for such a task (ask your high school guidance counselor). It is likely that computer programs will grow in popularity because they can provide a list of colleges that meet your needs (e.g., a medium-sized college in a large city with a strong music program), quickly excluding colleges that do not meet your preferences. This list can then be pared down with in-depth research from college guidebooks.

Degree level

Is the degree offered a bachelor’s degree (typically a four-year college) or an associate’s degree (typically a two-year college)?

Type of college

Is the college public or private?

College setting and location

Is the college located in a large city, a small city, a large town, a small town, or a rural area? Is the college located in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest, the South, the Southwest, or the West?

Enrollment size

Is the college’s enrollment very large (more than 7,500), large (4,000-7,500), medium (2,000-3,999), small (750-1,999), or very small (less than 750)? Admission standards Does the college accept fewer than 50 percent of applicants, 50 to 75 percent of applicants, or more than 75 percent? What are the median SAT/ACT scores and grade point average? How does your child fit within these benchmarks? Most students apply to one or more “stretch” schools, where their credentials place them below the benchmark midpoint, one or more “safe” schools, where their credentials place them near the top, and several schools in between.


Does the school’s tuition compare with others in its class, and how must that tuition be paid? Some colleges offer creative tuition payment programs to eliminate the need for parents to write two big checks at the beginning of each semester. For example, you might be able to pay your child’s tuition in twelve equal monthly installments. Some colleges may also provide a tuition discount for parents who consent to automatic withdrawals from their savings account.

To continue reading about selecting the right college click here to download our free e-book, Education Planning: Strategies to Help Plan for Your Child’s Future.

Free Education Planning E-Book

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